Cleveland June 04, 2017
These 10 Rare Photos Show Cleveland’s Auto History Like Never Before
In the early years of the automotive industry, Cleveland was a hub of activity, particularly when it came to the production of luxury cars. The first diesel engine in the United States was constructed in Cleveland, the concept of “ready-made” (versus custom-made) cars got its start in our city, and the first car accident in history occurred on streets with which we are very familiar. We often forget the rich culture that automobiles enriched old-timey Cleveland with, but these vintage photos will take you back in time.
The automotive industry brought life to Cleveland, and Cleveland gave life to an era.
The Winton Motor Carriage Company was founded in Cleveland in 1897 and is credited as being one of the first companies in the United States to sell a motor car. Alexander Winton, who had owned a bicycle company, used his knowledge of moving parts to begin experimenting with car production. His first automobiles were laboriously built by hand, and their tires were produced by B.F. Goodrich.
Even the word "automobile" was born in Cleveland.
In 1899, when Alexander Winton carried out his second long-distance drive from Cleveland to New York, his journey was sponsored and publicized by Plain Dealer Reporter Charles Shanks. It is Shanks that is credited with bringing the word into widespread use. So, before cars were even in widespread use, Clevelanders were comfortable describing horseless carriages as automobiles.
One of America’s most beloved cars was born in Cleveland after an unpleasant encounter with Winton.
In 1898, a Warren-born man named James Ward Packard purchased an automobile from Winton Motors and was apparently displeased. He traveled to Cleveland to complain and offer some advice, to which he received something along the lines of, "if you don’t like it, go make your own." That’s exactly what he did, and Packard cars were in production for over half a century.
In 1898, Winton Motors interviewed and ultimately decided not to hire a man named Henry Ford.
That’s right, Winton Motors interviewed Henry Ford and found him to be "unimpressive." Ford would go on to open a plant in Detroit, where he began mass-producing cars that the middle class could afford. By revolutionizing transportation, Ford proved himself to be actually rather impressive, and Detroit would go on to challenge Cleveland’s reputation as the U.S. capital of automotive production.
Even the modern layout for cars got its start in Cleveland.
The first Peerless-branded automobiles appeared in 1902, and they had a front-mounted engine that controlled the rear wheels with the use of a shaft. This would become the standard layout for cars, and Peerless would go on to gain further notoriety by using one of their models to set early automobile speed records.
Over 80 different models were produced in Cleveland until 1931, when Peerless closed their doors.
The Great Depression was detrimental to many U.S. businesses, and Peerless was no exception. They cut back production and began to market only luxury cars, yet by 1931, only a single car was produced. In 1933, when Prohibition finally ended, the factory was reopened to make what they hoped would be an even more profitable product: beer.
By World War II, Cleveland was known to be a center of wide-scale parts and accessory manufacturing.
Production switched gears during World War II. Cleveland factories shifted their focus from automotive to military production. Many used their expertise to begin constructing both vehicle and airplane parts. Following the war, industrialists began producing cars once again and found great success. The manufacturing census of 1947 shows that over 10 percent of the Cleveland workforce was employed between 36 parts and car manufacturers.
Cleveland automobile dealers would first see unprecedented demand in the 1950’s.
Consumers became crazed for cars in the 1950’s, which in turn led to a growth in Cleveland production. The automobile production industry would reach its historic peak in 1963, when 59 vehicle assembly and equipment operations were active within the City of Cleveland.
After the automotive industry reached its peak, it had to cope with the difficulties of overexpansion.
After 1963, production patterns shifted in Cleveland and many people lost their jobs. By the 1980s, many plants had closed. Others, like the Ford Plants in Parma and Brook Park, underwent significant expansion.
Today, we can only look back in wonder at the rise and fall of the Ohio automotive industry.
With Cleveland claiming so many automotive firsts, it easily could have become Motor City. However, Cleveland can still claim a rich history that put it at the forefront of automobile manufacturing.
It truly is remarkable to learn how Cleveland has played a role in the development and growth of the auto industry. All these historic photos have me dreaming of all the classic cars I’d like to own. What is your favorite classic car? Let us know, and tell us any facts you may have learned growing up about the local auto history!